U.S. Allows Satellite Radio Merger – The U.S. Justice Department has given its blessing to a $4.6-billion buyout by Sirius Satellite Radio of competing XM Satellite Radio Holdings.  The FCC still has to give an opinion on this but we all know what great boosters of media monopolies that group is, so now opposition is expected there. The Justice Department investigated the possible antitrust aspect but found it not formidable. Some consumer groups said this would give the whole satellite market to a single company.

The feds bought the pitch of both satellite services that consumers won’t be harmed in any way because today they have such a universe of different audio options available to them. (It’s not like one conglomerate owning nearly every radio station, TV station and newspaper in a large city – as currently supported and encouraged by the FCC.)  The merger makes a great deal of sense and many have been waiting for it for some time now. Drivers will no longer have to decide between two incompatible formats (as with HD DVD and Blu-ray) for their satellite radio receivers, and they will be offered even more different channels than they presently receive – if they want them.  They will also have the alternative of selecting only those channels they want, for as little as $7 a month – the two companies proposed a la carte pricing to the feds to sweeten the deal. (Wouldn’t it be nice if we could also get that for TV cable and satellite services?)  The two firms will also save bundles by no longer having to launch separate costly satellites.  Neither one has made a profit yet, but hopefully  the new entity will attract more subscribers; it may also eventually raise rates.

First Recording Ever Made – 1860 – Not an April Fool! – The entire history of audio has just been rewritten.  No longer is Edison’s 1877 “Mary had a little lamb” cylinder the earliest known sound recording ever made! A team of U.S. researchers discovered in an obscure French archive cylinder recordings called phonautographs, made by a Frenchman named Scott de Martinville, starting as early as 1853.  The earlier recordings are not intelligible, but one from 1860 has someone singing part of the French folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” – now the earliest audibly recognizable recording of the human voice yet discovered.  In a way, the discovery doesn’t diminish Edison, because Martinville had no idea how to play back his phonautographs!  The barely-audible sounds were extracted from the cylinders at the Lawrence Berkeley Labs using special optical techniques.  A fascinating aspect to this is that Martinville had recorded two adjacent tracks – one a human voice and the other a tuning fork at 435 Hz, which had just been adopted as the French official reference pitch.  This allowed the researchers to lock in the absolute pitch. Their research on the early recordings continues.  You can hear some samples as MP3 files here.